Using Your Immune System to Stay Well
Experts explain how you can tap the power of your immune system to avoid getting sick.
According to the CDC, the recommended vaccines for children and adolescents
include hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, measles, mumps,
rubella, varicella, polio, pneumococcus, and Haemophilus influenza type B --
The CDC says seniors need vaccines against pneumococcus and the flu, as do
all adults who may be immunocompromised by diseases such as HIV or cancer.
Everyone needs to update their tetanus vaccine once every 10 years, while those
who work in high-risk jobs (like hospital workers) need vaccines for hepatitis
A and B. The CDC recommends all children age 11-18 get a vaccine for
meningitis. It is also recommended for people at elevated risk of getting the
disease, such as travelers to countries with high rates of meningococcal
What Affects Immunity
Much like soldiers who grow weary in battle, your immune cells can also lose
some of their protective effects when your body is constantly battling
poor health habits. As such, it's not surprising that doctors frequently
recommend certain lifestyle changes as a way to optimize the function of your
"The most important thing you can do for your immune system is to achieve
lifestyle balance and adopt the fundamentals of healthy living. This will give
your immune system what it needs to function at optimal capacity," says
At the top of that balance list: reducing stress.
"There is overwhelming evidence that stress -- and the substances secreted
by the body during stress -- negatively impacts your ability to remain
healthy," says Charnetski.
Merrell agrees: "There are dozens, if not hundreds of studies attesting to
how stress affects the body's ability to respond to infection."
The good news is that lowering your stress can help your body maintain both
your physical and your emotional health.
"People who have less stress are simply healthier overall," says
Sleep, Sex, and Working Out
Remember when Mom used to say that staying out too late would cause you to
get sick? Mom was right! Experts say that not only does prolonged sleep
deprivation wear down immune protection but getting adequate rest can help
boost your defenses.
"We don't know the exact mechanism by which sleep impacts immunity, but we
do know that a lack of it prevents the body from repairing cells. And when we
skip that important physiological step, we get sick more easily," says
To help give your immune system an extra boost during cold and flu season,
Charnetski says get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
And if you can't sleep … try a little "immune sex therapy." Charnetski says
that having sex gives immunity a healthy boost of IGA (a protein from the
immune system that helps fight infections), which plays a critical role in
keeping pathogens from entering your body -- and capturing those that do sneak